Beautiful Beni Ouarains

Beni Ouarain rugs

You can’t open an interior design book or magazine these days without seeing glorious, creamy Beni Ouarain (or Ourain) rugs. Maybe that’s because they really do look good in nearly any context, and particularly suit mid-century and modernist interiors.  But what’s the back story to these wonderful carpets, and what’s really authentic in a market increasingly flooded with copies?

The ‘Beni Ouarain’ are a confederation of seventeen Moroccan Berber tribes, from the most north easterly part of the Middle Atlas mountains. Here you can still find the breed of sheep whose excellent wool is responsible for the quality of authentic Beni Ouarain rugs and textiles. These tribes wove for protection against winter cold in the mountains, and carpets served as thick and cosy sleeping mats, often measuring more than 6m to accommodate the whole family

The classic Beni Ouarain carpet design has a network of diamonds or lozenges made up of relatively fine charcoal or brown lines on a white or cream background.  Borders are uncommon. The oldest documented rugs have very rich designs; richer than the more simple designs we see today.  The Beni Ouarain also produced exceptional flat weaves, where weavers were able to display all their skill in the making of women's shawls and blankets, some of the finest and technically demanding of Moroccan textiles

The classic Beni Ouarain carpet design

Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen used these rugs in their interiors.  Le Corbusier perceived them as an enrichment of his architecture. Their combination of simplicity and creative inventiveness works well with modernism’s aesthetics, also balancing its austerity with some softness

Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto, living room with Beni Ouarain carpets. Photo Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Museum

Since the late 1990s weavers started to produce Beni Ouarain carpets adapted to European and American market demands, with sizes suitable to modern houses and with more marketable designs. But these designs often lack the spirit and personality of authentic tribal carpets of the past.  More recently copies have sprung up woven in India and Turkey. And even in Morocco, "antique finish" washing prepares new carpets to be sold as being old. However, only an authentic vintage Beni Ouarain carpet will display a deep earthy creativeness and special richness of design. They are now hard to find.

An original old Beni Ouarain carpet, from Maroc Tribal, with a classic 'split' design and a Berber woven word in the corner

An original old Beni Ouarain carpet, from Maroc Tribal, with a classic 'split' design and a Berber woven word in the corner

Maroc Tribal hunts down original old Beni Ouarain carpets, making direct contact with families and tribes, trying ensure we pass the maximum amount of money we can to the weavers’ families.  We have just started to commission three Berber weavers to produce carpets working to more unusual ancient designs, and we pay them directly and generously. Much more needs to be done to ensure that these designs are preserved so that the culture and lives of the artisans who make them can thrive.